One year ago, during President Benigno Aquino III’s 2014 State of the Nation Address, he mentioned the construction of the Kaliwa Dam Project in General Nakar, Quezon as among the many projects in this administration’s public-private partnership pipeline.
The dam, part of the bigger network of dams called the New Centennial Water Source Project along the Sierra Madre mountain range, aims to supplement what Angat Dam produces to provide the water needs of the country with the increasing population and greater economic activity.
The dam project was touted as an example of how the government, under the Daang Matuwid, now has greater capacity to find solutions to problems—water shortage, for instance—that loom in the horizon.
The announcement took the members of the Dumagat Remontado tribe, an indigenous people, by surprise. They had been opposing the project for years. In 2009, 100 of them from General Nakar marched to Manila to show their opposition to the construction of the dam. They refused to give their free prior and informed consent (FPIC) to it. Soon after, the construction did stop; they thought they had explained their opposition convincingly.
Alas, authorities led by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System were just biding time before resurrecting the project.
And now the surprise.
Merlita Tena, president of the women’s organization Gupad which stands for Grupo ng Kababaihang Katutubong Umuugnay sa Pamayanan, enumerates the numerous negative effects of the construction of the dam to their people and to the environment.
Foremost are the destruction of the environment and the disruption of the people’s livelihood. The Dumagats have been occupying the land for generations, and it is here that they are able to educate their young about which resources of the forest may be eaten, and which plants have medicinal purposes.
Constructing the dam would require uprooting large swaths of trees, which does not even make sense because the government is also actively reforesting the area through the National Greening Program, according to Merlita.
Her husband Julianito, president of Samahan ng mga Katutubong Agta/ Dumagat na Ipinagtatanggol at Binabaka ang Lupain Ninuno—Sagibin—says they were told by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje that no environmental compliance certificate has yet been issued for the project. The department is just doing a feasibility study, the secretary supposedly said. And yet, construction is already under way.
Julianito adds that they were told the Dumagats will be relocated in Antipolo, Rizal. Unfortunately, even people’s organizations there have told them the space was not even enough for the community.
“Any relocation size for us would be like being imprisoned,” he says. They, as their ancestors, have never known another home.
He is perplexed at how construction could begin even when the indigenous peoples have refused to give their consent. “Perhaps there has been an initial payment made already to the contractors,” he could not help but think.
Merlita says efforts to “consult” the people about the project was but superficial. They were called to a meeting, yes, where they were told that that if the project proceeds, the communities would prosper, they would earn more in a day -- up to P270 and a kilo of rice --and they would have electricity and buildings and increased employment.
What they failed to tell the natives, Merlita said, was that the money would buy so few because the prices of basic goods were so high, and only those with Tesda certification would be eligible for employment in the dams. “How could that happen when most of us did not even finish elementary school?”
The MWSS also showed them a Memorandum of Agreement containing the details of the project, but the text was in English, such that a chieftain declared the paper contained nothing because he could not understand a single word. Only then was a Tagalog version drafted. If people did not understand the language, how can they appreciate what is written, and how could they decide whether or not to give their consent?
The MWSS also provided an unrealistic count of the families and communities that would be affected, the Tenas said. They wanted to show that only a few would be “inconvenienced” for the good of more.
And it is not as if the Dumagats are refusing out of spite or sabotaging government efforts to address the water issue. Julianito says that constructing new dams would be futile because the forests are already practically bare to begin with. A more sustainable solution, the natives believe, is rehabilitating existing/ defective dams, controlling non-revenue water as nearly 30-percent is lost in distribution networks, using water prudently, harvesting rainwater, reforesting, and reusing urban wastewater, among others.